So you want to write a novel?

PUBLISHED: 11:51 28 October 2015 | UPDATED: 11:51 28 October 2015

Award winning Norwich author Kris Holt. Photo: Steve Adams

Award winning Norwich author Kris Holt. Photo: Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2014

It’s become a phenomenon among writers all over the globe. DONNA-LOUISE BISHOP looks at why writing a novel in 30 days is more than just words on the page.

Melissa Brown, author of Becoming Death and Norfolk's municipal liaison for Norfolk. Picture: STUART HELLINGSWORTHMelissa Brown, author of Becoming Death and Norfolk's municipal liaison for Norfolk. Picture: STUART HELLINGSWORTH

It is often said that everyone has a book inside of them waiting to be written.

Although that may be the case, a popular reply for many seems to be ‘I just don’t have the time’.

But what if you did?

For the past fifteen years a group of hardcore writers have clubbed together around the world with the mutual aim of banning that excuse forever.

National Novel Writing Month. Picture: Image courtesy of National Novel Writing MonthNational Novel Writing Month. Picture: Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

And it’s all thanks to the annual initiative National Novel Writing Month, which encourages would-be-novelists to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Known affectionately as NaNoWriMo, the idea was launched in July 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area, USA, by Chris Baty. Just 21 participants took part that month.

In 2000, it was moved to November and an official website was launched, designed by a friend of Mr Baty’s. That year 140 participants signed up for the event, including several from other countries.

It has continued to grow considerably over the years and sees hundreds of thousands of writers take part with more than 325,000 participants from around the world joining up in 2014.

Writer’s profile: Elizabeth Haynes

Published crime writer Elizabeth Haynes, of North Walsham, saw her dreams become a reality following National Novel Writing Month.

She said: “I first heard about NaNoWriMo in October 2005 and I have participated every November since then.

“I never expected it to be anything other than a fun challenge - publishing was a dream, the sort of thing that happens to other people - but the first time I had a finished novel the inevitable question was ‘what next?’.

“I submitted it to a friend for advice, and he passed it to a publishing colleague - who became my editor, Vicky Blunden at Myriad Editions. The incredible job Vicky did in developing my hap-hazard first draft saw my 2008 NaNoWriMo novel, Into the Darkest Corner, become a success. It’s now published in over thirty countries and won Amazon UK Best Book of 2011.

“NaNoWriMo is still the highlight of my year and I get excited every October. I think I love how inclusive it is, to write alongside hundreds of thousands of others, just for fun. Whilst I’ve been lucky enough to get a career thanks to NaNoWriMo, the object is still to let your imagination run riot for 30 days, because you can.

“If you’ve ever thought you have a novel in you, but you’ve never found the time, you should give it a try.

“The emphasis is on word count, so quantity not quality, and taking away the pressure to write something good reduces writers’ block. There’s no time to edit as you go along, you just keep going. You end up on December 1 worn out, exhilarated and with a 50,000-word novel you didn’t have before.

“Most of it will be rubbish, but I guarantee there will be some nuggets of brilliance in there. And now you have something to edit, if you want to.”

Ms Haynes’ latest book Behind Closed Doors is her fifth published NaNoWriMo novel and the second in a police procedural series featuring the Briarstone Major Crime Team.

Despite its popularity, there are still those who reject NaNoWriMo as an amateur event while insisting anything that is written from the exercise must be unworthy of reading.

But for many, it gives them a chance to ignore their inner editor and to allow themselves to let the inspiration flow.

What is it?

Story of the event

The event began in 1999, and became a nonprofit in 2005.

This year is the 10th anniversary of NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Programme.

Every year a new theme is unveiled, this year’s is ‘The NaNoWriMo Library’.

Last year a total of 325,142 writers signed-up from all over the world, with 58,917 participants completing a 50,000-word draft novel, and a further 803 volunteer municipal liaisons guided 615 regions on six continents.

Nearly 70 writers in Norfolk have already joined the online forum and signed-up to take part this year.

NaNoWriMo’s programmes now include National Novel Writing Month in November, Camp NaNoWriMo, the Young Writers Programme, Come Write In, and the “Now What?” Months.

The challenge is to write 50,000 words during the month of November - there will be plenty of time later to edit.

That averages around 1,667 words per day.

For some, this may not mean much alteration to their writing schedule anyway, but for many it can be an uphill challenge.

The only important thing 
though is that you keep moving forward.

With a little help from my friends...

One of the great things about NaNoWriMo is that you can do it from the comfort of your own home but for many participants, they credit their success with attending weekly “write-ins” to help them on their way.

This year’s events for NaNoWriMo in Norfolk will take place at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, Norwich, as follows:

Launch event - Saturday October 31, 12pm - 4pm, at the Vernon Castle Room (second floor).

Write ins - Every Wednesday in November, 6pm - 7.30pm, at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library (ground floor).

Finale party - Saturday December 5, 12pm - 2pm, at the Vernon Castle Room (second floor).

International award-winning writer Kris Holt, 36, of Norwich, has taken part in NaNoWriMo for the last five years and praised how effective it can be.

“It may have been the case that there was a stigma attached to it once, but now there are so many successfully published NaNo novels that people can see this as a genuine opportunity,” he said. “It’s a genuine challenge but still achievable.

“I’ve made so many friends. It’s tremendous fun, very social and offers you the chance to get down that book you know you have inside you.

“Just don’t forget to edit in December.”

Why do it?

There are various reasons why people take part.

Some are striving towards finishing a first draft of a work in progress while others enjoy writing at length just for themselves.

Either way one thing is clear, it is not a walk in the park.

Instrumental tuition tutor, Mandy Slater, 53, of Swaffham, has taken part and “won” NaNoWriMo for the past four years, alongside her husband Alan, 69.

Describing herself as the sort of person who rises to the challenge, she said: “I had been going to writing groups and doing short stories but when I started doing NaNo, it would have been the first time I had written something at that length.

“Doing something like NaNo is almost like a discipline – something I’ve needed in the past. It’s the fact you don’t have to worry about anything other than getting words on a page.”

Mrs Slater hoped to self-published a previous NaNo novel, Still Life, in the future.

The team at NaNoWriMo also sends out support across communities in the form of municipal liaisons – volunteers helping to organise events 
and weekly write-ins for participants.

Norfolk’s municipal liaison, author Melissa Brown, 32, has taken on that role for the past six years. She explained how vital the experience could be early on in the novel-writing process claiming it is about the quantity of words and not the quality.

“For some people it takes them a long time to finish writing a longer piece,” she said. “I know of people who have started a novel about ten years ago and still haven’t finished it.

“The aim is to just get the book finished, and then you can go from there.”

Miss Brown is the author of self-published book Becoming Death and she praised NaNoWriMo for inspiring her to finish writing it. It took her three years to edit it.

“If I had taken more than three years to write it then I wouldn’t be at the point I am now,” she 
added. So far, more than 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published.

They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.

What comes next?

It’s not just about turning off your inner editor - there’s a lot to be gained by taking part in one of the world’s biggest writing challenges.

“I like meeting the new people every year,” Miss Brown said. “You always get someone new and I like hearing their ideas. In fact, I sometimes wish I had come up their idea.

“I think being around other people, other writers, encourages you to write. It’s not always about the writing. It’s about being committed, giving it a go and getting the words down on the page.”

In the end one of the most important things to remember is that come December 1 you may not have a Pulitzer prize-winning piece, but you will have at least 50,000 words of which to work with.

You may even gain a few new friends along the way.

NaNoWriMo is in partnership with author Kami Garcia and nonprofit organisation We Need Diverse Books.

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